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Alum donates rare Domesday Book to Elon

Belk Library added a rare volume to its archives this fall when an Elon alumna donated to the university a copy of the first land survey ever completed in England, today considered one of the most important documents of the medieval era.

Two hundred and fifty facsimiles of the Domesday Book were produced of the “Penny Edition” to commemorate its 900th anniversary.

Betty Thayer ’80 gave to her alma mater a limited edition facsimile of what has come to be known as the Domesday Book, a survey finished in 1086 and used by King William I to assess land values and resources on all parcels held by the Crown south of Scotland.

In 1986, 250 facsimiles were produced of the “Penny Edition” to commemorate its 900th anniversary. Thayer’s gift was Penny Edition 151 and included two coins – a silver penny of William I, known as William the Conqueror, and a proof specimen of a 1986 bronze penny of Queen Elizabeth II.

“It’s a most generous gift,” said Kate Hickey, Dean and University Librarian. “The material is in perfect condition. It's one of the world's most famous books and when you look at it, it’s like looking at the original.”

Great Britain’s National Archives believes the book’s nickname refers to the Biblical Day of Judgment, or ‘doomsday’, because there were no appeals to beyond the survey as evidence of legal titles to land.

Thayer lives in Bath, England, and has always been interested in history. She said she was looking for a long-term investment when she came across a newspaper article about the Domesday Books.

Several maps from throughout England at the time of the survey were included in the anniversary edition.

After viewing the original Domesday Book at the National Archives in Kew, England, she invested in the Penny Edition. “[The Book] was going to be produced using a unique and rare photographic technique, and it looked very interesting,” she said.

Thayer has regularly contributed to Elon’s annual campaign and believed students, faculty and staff could use the book.

“Soon after purchasing it I moved to a new house and I did not have a proper place to display the various volumes,” she explained. “I always intended to have a formal library but it never happened. My house does not have the right facilities to display it, and it seemed a shame to keep such a beautiful document under wraps.”

Thayer said she believes the book could be a valuable resource for the Department of History, or even the Department of Political Science and Public Administration.

The Domesday Book facsimile at Elon is currently available for library use only.

- Written by Sarah Costello '11

Eric Townsend,
1/3/2011 3:38 PM